Arthritis is an extremely common and often debilitating disease, especially in older adults. Joint pain and discomfort may become worse at times, which can keep you from doing and enjoying activities you once loved. The natural reaction is to stop moving and rest, but science shows that engaging in regular activity is actually helpful in managing the disease and combating flare-ups. One of the best activities for arthritis sufferers is gardening.
Gardening is a wonderful way to get outside and enjoy nature. Whether a veteran or a beginner, gardening has been proven to prevent joint stiffness, improve range of motion, and stay flexible no matter how much or how little you do. However, doing too much for too long can aggravate symptoms. Thankfully, there are many ways to continue enjoying gardening without causing a flare-up.
Stretch. Take a few moments before and after gardening to gently stretch your back, legs, and shoulders. Regular stretching helps to prevent injury and reduce muscle soreness.
Work at the Waist. Raise your gardening bed, or use shelves or tables, so you don’t have to bend over or stoop down unnecessarily. Working at waist level will place less strain on your lower back and hips so you feel more comfortable.
Choose Bigger and Longer Tools. Tools with longer handles will keep you from having to bend over so often while tools with bigger grips will make your hands more comfortable for longer periods of time. Get in the habit of keeping them nearby so you can take fewer steps to get the job done.
Choose Electric Tools. If using hand tools causes flare-ups, consider switching to electric tools that will do the work for you.
Use Knee Pads or Benches. Knee pads add cushion so your knees won’t be so strained. If kneeling down is still difficult, consider using a small bench or stool to sit on to take the pressure off your knees and back.
Use the Right Gloves. Wearing gloves while you garden not only protect your hands from cold temperatures, they also help you to grip and twist objects more easily so you have less stress on your joints. Consider buying cushioned gloves that are specially made for arthritis sufferers to ease joint pain. Or, for a cheaper alternative, buy regular gloves that are a little bigger than you would normally wear and stuff foam padding inside while you use them.
Use Carts. Instead of carrying everything in your arms or in buckets, use a cart with pneumatic tires. The wheels will make it easier to transport your supplies and plants regardless of the terrain and reduce strain on your shoulders and back.
Avoid High Maintenance Plants. Plants that require a lot of upkeep may be fun to tend, but they can take a toll on your joints. Consider perennials or those that are drought-tolerant so you can spend less time maintaining your beds and more time enjoying their beauty.
Consider Container Gardening. If getting outside is getting too difficult, bring your plants to you with container gardening. Maintaining your garden on your patio or porch takes less energy and less stress on your joints. If this isn’t an option that interests you, consider setting up a greenhouse. Greenhouses allow you garden in a consistent temperature, and you can place your plants on tables or shelves so you spend less time on your knees or bent over.
Change It Up. Change your body position often or take the time to stretch and rest as you garden to reduce stiffness and the potential for joint pain. Also, be sure to change your routine from time to time by breaking up the things that need to be done into smaller jobs that you can do throughout the day or over several days.
Try Community Gardening. If keeping a garden at home has become too difficult, join a community garden near your home. Community gardens usually provide the tools and resources you need to make gardening easier. They are also a great way to meet other gardening enthusiasts and make friends who are happy to help you. Community gardens provide a place to be social while you indulge in digging in the dirt.
Know Your Limits. Always respect your body and know your limits. Though gardening is a peaceful activity, it is still necessary to pace yourself. Don’t push yourself too hard if you’re feeling tired. Take frequent breaks so you can give your joints a rest.
Talk to Your Doctor. Most importantly, always check with your doctor first to be sure it is safe to engage in gardening. Your doctor can make recommendations for managing your arthritis and reducing the chances of a flare-up.
Gardening is a wonderful way to get outside and enjoy the work of your hands while combating arthritic flare-ups. By making a few simple changes and being vigilant of your effort levels, you can enjoy gardening for many years to come without your arthritis getting in the way.
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